Power play and ‘filthy politics’
The ruling clique is imploding, or in fine form, depending on who’s looking, and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) was correct to decide to stay open on Saturday for the expected tsunami of candidate withdrawals and substitutions, or what those grown cynical describe as clearing operations for placeholders. But contrary to Albay Rep. Joey Salceda’s fearless forecast that Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte will settle for nothing less than a run for president — “Don’t underestimate that girl,” he had said — she up and filed a vice presidential candidacy under Lakas-CMD, to which she swore fealty on the same day she left her own regional party.
And with not even a proper goodbye, too: A handwritten note was produced to dampen the impression that she had ghosted her Hugpong ng Pagbabago; nonetheless, in a brief television clip, its secretary general Anthony del Rosario said with an ever so slight touch of bemusement that he and other party members had been caught by surprise.
Imagine Salceda’s chagrin at being shown as off the mark, after pitching his candidate as ripe for No. 1. The intrigued observer would agree that it ain’t no way to treat the chair of the powerful House committee of ways and means, by his own claim the candidate’s hand-holder who supplied her with data analytics to help her decide her positioning for 2022.
Belying her and her spokesperson’s constant declarations of her disinterest in straying beyond Davao City, Sara Duterte dutifully telegraphed her intention to break away: withdrawal from the mayoralty race (her brother, the vice mayor, similarly going through the motions to take her place as candidate), resignation from Hugpong, and taking her oath as a Lakas member—all as unrelenting rain pelted the city, causing waterways to overflow and families to flee their homes and pack evacuation centers, with a drug raid involving the city public information officer, since sacked, embarrassing the city government. Yet she found the time and the means to attend Speaker Lord Allan Velasco’s birthday bash in exclusive Balesin, flying in on a private plane—one picture showing an aide holding the obligatory umbrella over her fair head—and then, in the afternoon, standing as principal sponsor at the wedding of the daughter of the Lakas chair (Sen. Bong Revilla), after which she was sworn in as party member by the Lakas president (Leyte Rep. and House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez).
The optics were dramatic: President Duterte’s heir not-so-apparent on the arm of the dictator’s son and namesake, all but upstaging the happy bride and groom in the vast “Revilla Farm.” (A pairing made in political heaven, per their allies, and allegedly maneuvered, although no one’s confirming it, by someone Salceda once called, fondly, a “lucky bitch.”) The joyful occasion notwithstanding, the contexts of the glittering cast were on display to those burdened by an enduring sense of irony (for example, the father of the bride, though acquitted of the charge of plunder, is on orders by the court to return P124 million in pork barrel funds, and is out on bail for graft cases).
On Saturday, being not a last-minute filer, as Salceda had said (this time correctly), Sara Duterte sent a representative to file her candidacy for VP. She issued a statement explaining (but not really) her surprise move, saying one could serve the country in any position, etc. Thus did she formalize the Marcos-Duterte alliance that, activist organizations and other concerned groups and individuals had warned, would mark the 2022 polls.
The pairing’s physical and financial resources would be staggering to contemplate, but mercifully, these are not the only factors that matter in elections. Yet the lame-duck administration pulled its own surprise in Sen. Bong Go’s candidacy as president, filed by a Palace crowd at the Comelec also on Saturday after the placeholder was duly rid of his assignment. (Earlier, Go had vaguely and emotionally announced changes in his bid for VP, and even found the occasion to denounce politics as filthy — “napakadumi” was the term he used.) Thus did the President’s longtime minder again acknowledge his political status, whatever it is at any given moment, as established on his boss’ say-so.
Yet the boss still has something up his sleeve, indicating no end just yet to the play for power, particularly when it’s beginning to ebb. After floating the idea of running for VP and ditching it in the face of frosty public opinion, after claiming fatigue and a wish to retire, after flirting with the possibility of seeking a seat in the Senate, VP aspirant Sara Duterte’s father is poised to run as her opponent. Allegedly. Or not. Whatever, “Tito Sen” is doubtless amused.
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